Talking to Youth About the Dangers of Tanning Beds

Last updated: June 2018

During Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we asked our community, “What would you like to know more about skin cancer?” The first two awareness topics we shared from the community emphasized that skin cancer comes in all shapes and sizes so it's important to get regular skin checks. Here are two more of the five awareness topics, as requested by our skin cancer community.

There's no such thing as a "safe" tanning bed

"Tanning bed salons should be outlawed! Back in the day we slathered ourselves with baby oil to try to get tan...We didn't know in the 60s/70s what it would give us today."

"The majority of my - still tanning - friends do not know enough about signs and warnings."

Risks of tanning bed use

Many of our community members shared the importance of avoiding UV exposure and discussed the potential dangers of tanning beds. Research shows the UV exposure (typically from the sun or tanning beds) can lead to skin cancer. All forms of sun exposure (frequent sunburns, intermittent or long-term sun exposure, and exposure during childhood) can all increase the risk of skin cancer, especially in combination with other risk factors.1

Additionally, studies show that people who use tanning beds are at a higher risk of skin cancer than people who do not, with tanning beds causing more than 419,000 cases of skin cancer each year.2,3 Several organizations, such as the American Academy of Dermatology Association, support banning indoor tanning, especially for people under the age of 18.4

Frustration over hearing "tanning is not dangerous"

According to many of our skin cancer community members, it can be frustrating to watch friends continue to lie out in the sun, use tanning beds, or tell you that "tanning isn't dangerous." While not every person who has UV exposure will develop skin cancer, as many of you know, the risk just isn't worth it. As we continue to recognize skin cancer awareness every month, it's important to acknowledge the potentially serious impacts of prolonged sun exposure and tanning, and talk about simple ways to reduce skin cancer risk.

How to talk to children and youth

"Looking for ways to teach the dangers to young kids and teenagers."

If you've been diagnosed with skin cancer, your biological family members may be more likely to develop skin cancer, due to the associated genetic risk factors.1 As a result, many community members have asked for ways to teach children and teens about the dangers of skin cancer, and how to prevent it.

Establish sun-safe habits early

Because childhood sun exposure is associated with future skin cancers, it's important to establish sun-safe habits early on, such as using and re-applying sunscreen regularly, avoiding sun exposure during peak hours (10am to 2pm), protecting the skin with hats, sunglasses, and other protective clothing, and avoiding tanning beds.1

Lead by example

When teaching your kids about skin cancer, it's important to serve as the example and model good habits (like performing regular self-skin exams and applying sunscreen throughout the day). You can also check-in with your child's school to make sure that sunscreen application and the use of hats and sunglasses during recess are encouraged by school policies.

Being frank with teens

Teens may be more resistant to sun-safe practices, or face peer-pressure to look tan. When talking to teens about skin cancer prevention, be sensitive to their concerns, while also explaining the risks of UV exposure, including tanning. With older children and teens, you can be frank about the potential consequences of skin cancer, and why they should take steps early to reduce their risk.5

Alternatives for resistant teens

For teens who are resistant, you can consider allowing your teen to buy a new pair of sunglasses or protective clothing to help them be more sun-safe; if they pick it out, they may be more likely to wear it! For teens who insist on appearing tanner, you can also ask your pediatrician if make-up or self-tanning products are safe for your child's skin.6 When talking to your teen, you can also point out celebrities who are not naturally tan and/or celebrities who have pledged not to use tanning beds.7 In the end, your children are influenced by your example, as well as your rules, so it's important to establish skin cancer prevention practices for the entire family.

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